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A Better Politics

by Berry Friesen (January 20, 2017)

A reader in Iowa—frustrated by a political system that gave us Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton as our choices for President—thinks we can do better:

“The positive, constructive alternative to empire . . . [requires] a healthy political process. . . . [We] will never protest ourselves to a positive alternative. Creating a positive alternative is a political task . . . . The answer to a failure in politics is better politics.”

Do we have it in us?  A better politics, I mean?

Some say we have just the sort of dysfunctional politics we deserve in the sense that we want to bully the rest of the world, tell lies to one another, shirk responsibility for future generations, live selfishly and only for today.

Or maybe we want a better politics, but are being defeated by our own well-intentioned blindness and by vested interests that benefit from keeping the political system as it is.

Which do you think it is?  Some of both?

I am drawn to the Iowan’s positive spirit, his reminder that with a better politics we would be a better society and have a better future, his assumption that many of us want to be freed from a politics that locks us into terrible choices.   Though it would be a slow and exhausting struggle, I do want a better politics.

So on this day that Donald Trump is installed as our Oligarch-in-Chief—on this weekend when millions will cheer his ascension and millions more lament it—let’s name specific features of the kind of politics we want.

Obviously, it would offer us different choices than what the Democrat and Republican parties are designed to give us. In other words, a better politics would not be the duopoly we have now; it would include other effective political parties leading in other directions.

How do we get that?

In part, the answer is technical.  We need a voting system that rewards responsible governance and penalizes irresponsibility.  At least two changes are badly needed:  (a) so-called third parties with enough traction within the system to impact who wins and who loses; and (b) a method of counting votes that ensures no candidate is able to "win" an election without demonstrating support from at least 50 percent of the voters. Instant runoff voting (IRV)—already in place in a few places around the US—can move us in this direction.

In part, the answer is physical.  We need to put ourselves in spaces with other people who also want a better politics, listen to them speak from their hearts, speak in turn from ours.  We need to be together with other people in the flesh, building solidarity, understanding and trust.

In part, the answer is cerebral.  Neo-liberalism has hijacked our understanding of economics, shearing it of its moral underpinnings and making it into a greed-based pseudo-science easily manipulated by the one percent.  There is no immutable principle that requires income and wealth to flow in ever greater shares to the elite.  That’s a political choice—an immoral one--foisted upon us in the guise of economics.

In part, the answer is strategic.  For the past fifty years, we’ve organized ourselves around psycho-social identities of gender, race and sexual attraction and around private issues such as abortion and guns.  “The personal is political” has been the mantra of our era; indeed, it continues to shape most of the current protests against Trump.  Thus, instead of seeking broadly-applicable policies to strengthen communities, share economic prosperity and create a sustainable ecology, we have focused on “identity issues” that use the rhetoric of “justice” but actually separate and estrange us from one another, leaving us fragmented and weak politically.

In part, the answer is spiritual.  We need to repent of our imperialism as a nation—our practice of using the wealth, pervasive surveillance capacity and overwhelming military power of the US to dominate and subdue the world.  It’s racist, it’s deceitful, it’s deadly, it’s terribly expensive and it distorts our society to the benefit of weapons-makers, propagandists and opportunists of an authoritarian stripe.  That's right, it's evil.

Regardless of whether we think of ourselves as political or apolitical, regardless of where we place ourselves on the political spectrum, there is work here for each of us to do. Doing that work is a good way to redeem the days ahead as our Oligarch-in-Chief pretends to “make America great again.”

Much more can and should be said about a better politics. For now, I offer a short reading list for those who want to go deeper.

   --re. instant runoff voting (IRV), here and here.
   --re. flesh-and-blood engagement, here.
   --re. the scam known as neoliberalism, here and here.
   --re. the failures of identity politics, here and here.
   --re. the evil of imperialism, here and here.
   --re. the character of Trumpism, here and here.